Strategic quitting

Philippine Tribune
Philippine Tribune

Have you ever heard of motivational speakers screaming from the stage the old saying: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win?” The expression is commonly attributed to Vince Lombardi, a highly regarded American football coach, and speakers still use the phrase today. There are variations of it that come in the way of: “You gotta have grit!” Others would use the word “resilience.”

I used the word some decades ago but refrained from doing so today as I understand that the catchphrase is only an all-out application for some situations. Many entrepreneurs, seasoned leaders, and executives know this. This is why I sometimes catch them smiling when they hear the worn-out cliche being mouthed and expressed with great gusto by younger “motivational speakers” on stage, and either they smile politely, or others shake their heads in frustration.

In the landscape of the workplace, quitting is often misunderstood. It’s not about surrendering to failure or giving up in the face of challenges; it’s about recognizing when to walk away from endeavors that are no longer aligned with success. The idea of quitting might induce discomfort but reframing it as a strategic move can lead to profound transformation.

Quitting from the entrepreneurial perspective is not about admitting defeat or abandoning challenges; rather, it involves discerning the optimal moment to disengage from pursuits that no longer align with success. It is a process of reshaping, altering, or innovating things as a calculated maneuver that can trigger profound, beneficial change. Rather than expressing, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit,” a more acceptable adjustment may also come in the form: “Winners know when to let go and quit.”

Then, some inexperienced “self-proclaimed business gurus” would dramatically exclaim. You have to have grit (picking up a line or two from Angela Duckworth’s best-selling book “Grit” what they do now know is that there is a thin line that differentiates “grit” or perseverance from “stubbornness.” And this can be disastrous for business.

Experienced leaders know that holding onto initiatives, projects, or procedures that have outlived their usefulness can lead to organizational debt – a hidden cost that drains resources and stifles innovation. Research from a reliable industry newsletter estimated that global companies lose around $9 trillion annually due to clinging to outdated strategies.

The fear of quitting often stems from a risk-averse culture that views quitting as a moral failure rather than a natural aspect of learning, testing, and evolving. Yet, quitting is an integral part of the process in an ideal future of work. Quitting done right involves making informed decisions based on explicit hypotheses and agreed-upon time frames. It’s about acknowledging that only some ventures will succeed and learning valuable lessons from the experience. I would instead refer to this action as “strategic quitting.”

Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

An organization comfortable with strategic quitting demonstrates clarity in its goals and priorities, ensuring that resources are directed towards endeavors that generate the most value. By shedding obsolete practices, teams can redirect their energy toward innovation and activities that drive progress.

A practical exercise can facilitate the transition from an aversion to quitting to embracing strategic decisions:

1. Compile a list of activities and meetings you’ve engaged in over the past week.

2. Include any tasks that typically consume substantial time.

3. Evaluate each item on your list.

4. Identify those that occur weekly, are not aligned with your core role, do not contribute to value, are based on tradition, or are within your control to eliminate.

5. Select items that meet the criteria and commit to discontinuing them for a defined period.

During this time, observe the impact on your colleagues, customers, and productivity. Do not be afraid to quit on the good if it opens doors for you to achieve greater and better.

Quitting is not synonymous with failure; it’s a strategic decision to reallocate resources, enhance focus, and foster innovation. Embracing this concept positions, us to thrive in a rapidly evolving work environment where adaptability and growth are the cornerstones of success.

On a personal note, I have learned to quit certain businesses, activities, practices, and even traditions that would not add value to my success goals. If not then I would have misappropriated the limited resources I have. Resources are limited, and we need to allocate and appropriate them accordingly and make sure that they add value to our success goals. If not – then quit!

(Francis Kong’s podcast “Inspiring Excellence” is now available on Spotify, Apple, Google, or other podcast streaming platforms.)

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